This week Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced new initiatives to support the development of the smart grid. But he also warned that the United States isn’t doing enough to get the grid ready for cheap renewable energy. And he acknowledged privacy concerns are making some utility customers wary of new smart meters, which are a key component of the smart grid.
The initiatives include a nonprofit organization called Grid 21 that will promote new smart-grid technologies to consumers, a student competition aimed at improving energy efficiency at home, a series of meetings about Recovery Act smart-grid projects, and a “rapid response team” to speed up the review of potential energy-transmission projects. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also announced $250 million in loans for rural grid development. Full details can be found here.
Chu predicted that in 10 to 20 years, solar power will cost six to seven cents per kilowatt hour, making it competitive with fossil fuels. Once that happens, he said, there will be a boom in solar panel installations that will strain the grid.
Solar energy presents a challenge for utilities, because output fluctuates as the sun’s position changes and clouds pass overhead. Utilities must actively manage the fluctuations, especially in neighborhoods with large numbers of solar panels or electric vehicles that need charging, to ensure that the right voltage levels are maintained and the power doesn’t go out.
Renewable sources of energy will also require lots of new transmission lines, especially since some of the windiest or sunniest places are far from large cities, where power is needed most.